Jeannie Gaffigan is a Role Model for Modern Women

The Jim Gaffigan Show debuted on July 15, proving that the public is interested in the daily mishaps of a father of five who hates hot pockets and loves bacon. Despite Jim’s steady rise to popularity in recent years, fans knew little about his wife except that she was a “Shiite Catholic” who could “get pregnant looking at babies.” Until now. The New York Times featured the elusive Jeannie and millions discovered what a quiet powerhouse she is. She wrote, edited, produced, and helped create the Jim Gaffigan Show, down to the “crumbs on the table”—while taking care of their five children in a two-bedroom Manhattan walk-up. As she told the Times, “I didn’t understand that it was going to be 80-plus hours per week for three months, and my kids were going to have to come to the set, and my house was going to have to be like Downton Abbey.” Jeannie’s close involvement with her husband’s popularity stems from her deep background in the arts.

After marriage, Jeannie relinquished her life in theater and became fearlessly dedicated to furthering her husband’s career. She was the writer behind many of his most famous hits: “She channeled her comedic sensibilities into Jim’s voice, helping cultivate his brand as a father, a die-hard food enthusiast, and an all-around genial guy. While Jeannie worked in the background, Jim became the king of the clean comics,” the Times noted. Although she allowed her own career to take a backseat (read: “gave it all up”) for her husband, Jeannie offers modern women a lesson about what it means to have it all.

“Behind every good man is a good woman,” the saying goes. While some might find this flattering, to many modern women, this is an irksome idea, a relic from a past where women lacked opportunities equal to men. Why should the woman be behindthe man? Modern women out-distance men in many areas, graduating from college athigher ratesout-earning men in most jobs, and getting married at a record-high age of 27. Most of my friends in New York City are single and ambitious. We secretly huddle in booths and confess that we are afraid of commitment. We thrive on being independent, pursuing our careers, traveling the world, writing a book or two; after all, we are encouraged to Lean In. Conversely, women who desire to stay at home and raise a family face shame for “taking up space” in elite Ivy League universities or getting an MBA or medical degree. In pursuit of equality, our culture seems to encourage women to pursue complete autonomy instead of acknowledging the value of men and women pooling their resources.

It’s understandable. High-achieving individuals want to make a difference. As Professor Clayton Christensen explained in his 2010 Harvard Business School commencement address:

“When people who have a high need for achievement . . . have an extra half hour of time or an extra ounce of energy, they’ll unconsciously allocate it to activities that yield the most tangible accomplishments. And our careers provide the most concrete evidence that we’re moving forward. You ship a product, finish a design, complete a presentation, close a sale, teach a class, publish a paper, get paid, get promoted. In contrast, investing time and energy in your relationship with your spouse and children typically doesn’t offer that same immediate sense of achievement.”

Every individual wants to feel like they are living a fulfilling life; 90% of millennials want to use their skills for good and over 50% are willing to take a pay cut to enter employment they really care about. No one wants to be insignificant, but the confusion about needing to choose between work or family lies in a misunderstanding of power vs. influence.

Many people think that to have influence, they have to be the public face of something. But often, the face is merely the talking head for the committees, speechwriters, advisors, and hosts of people who work tirelessly behind the scenes to advance the message. As Jeannie Gaffigan said, “I’ve been able to have complete creative fulfillment in this relationship without being the front person.”

If we had a better understanding of the value of all types of roles—including the less-public ones—we would put less pressure on ourselves to conform to society’s expectations. Women would feel the freedom to maximize their unique potential in whatever unique situations in which they find themselves. As Stephen Covey counseled, we should operate within our own “circle of influence” to be the most effective.

This is precisely why Jeannie Gaffigan is a role model and a breath of fresh air for modern women. When asked why she gave up her career, she says, “I’ve also been able to have five kids. . . . [I]f I had said, ‘I need to go my own way,’ I would have taken the resources away and split the resources, instead of pooling the resources. . . . I care more about Jim’s career, his material, more than anyone else in the world except him. We’re on the same team, and we’re going for the same thing.” As Jeannie Gaffigan illustrates, influence can be found anywhere, even at home with the kids.

This article first appears on Acculturated by yours truly. 

For Women Afraid of Commitment-This Is for You

A catch up with girlfriends over coffee invariably becomes an all out hash-fest about our love lives. We do not hesitate to dive into the juicy stuff: who-likes-whom, who broke up, or—as it seems everyone is doing lately—who got engaged. Like every girl, I swoon for my friends who found Mr. Right and live on Cloud 9 and rejoice for that girlfriend who is expecting her first son. With engagement rings in my news feed and wedding vows being exchanged every month, the long-held stigma that men are afraid of commitment seems passé. But while obsessing over the minute details of my own current relationship with various gal pals, I made a startling realization: I am not the only woman on the world who harbors a secret. In my life, my guy is not the one hesitating about marital commitment. I am.

As someone who has lived in Manhattan for years, I love the active life of singledom made possible by this concrete jungle. Far be it from me to worry when my guy is going to put a ring on it, or spend sleepless nights envisioning a future of owning cats and living alone. In some ways, I take pride in being “single and sensational.” I do not avoid commitment entirely, per se. On the contrary, I try to be deeply loving and devoted as a girlfriend, friend, sibling, daughter, and while working with my clients through my company.

When it comes to committing to someone in marriage, however, I feel a deep knot of anxiety in my stomach. After all, marriage is for life.

In those honest conversations with my girlfriends, we share our dreams to travel, to start our own companies, to write. The same vision, drive, independence, and sense of adventure with which we navigate our lives as individuals simultaneously makes us afraid to dedicate ourselves to one person in marriage. We toss around questions like "How do I know if thisguy is the one to donate everything to forever?" or "What if we change?” “What if I have to give everything up?” These questions pose challenges to which we seek answers.

“You need a healthy fear of marriage like you need a healthy fear of the ocean,” a friend poignantly remarked the other day. No sooner had she finished that phrase than my mind instantly flashed back to my first visit to the ocean as a gangly middle-schooler. I felt awkward and uncertain, not sure how to deal with the ebb and flow of the violent waves. I watched other people swimming around me, but my own body felt like a rag doll in a blender. I was warned to avoid rip tides and still insist that a crab bit my toe. It was exciting and energizing to be in such a foreign environment, but also mildly terrifying. Today, however, I have less fear of the ocean. I have learned how to swim in it and even surf the waves. If marriage can be likened to the ocean, I have learned a few lessons on how we women can overcome our fear:

We need to acclimate to the environment:

We do not live in the environment of marriage. Although the divorce rate has steadily declined in recent years with 70% college graduates remaining married after the 10 year mark, marriage rates amongst millennials are at an all-time low of just 26%. The average age of first marriage continues to climb to historic heights, now hovering between 27 for women and 29 for men. In large metropolitan cities where young adults congregate, we are not surrounded by others who are married. For this reason, it is hard to imagine what life will be like after we tie the knot. Our married friends become harder to reach by phone, text, and e-mail, triggering our fear that those who get married no longer have lives outside of their new little love cocoons. To solve this problem, it would be helpful to hear more stories from married couples about their happiness, and be invited into their homes to get to know their families. We already do the singles bar scene well; we need to learn how to navigate a new environment.

We need to see examples of others who have what we want:

Who doesn't love Kate Middleton and Prince William or Beyoncé and JZ? Although we know our marriages won’t completely resemble theirs, to my driven and ambitious girlfriends and myself, we enjoy seeing married couples who still travel, who still have a romantic spark, and who are still culturally or professionally engaged. I think on some level, we also want marriages that not only enrich our immediate community but also play a pivotal role together in the culture.

Since these examples are so few, I personally searched the eastern coast to hand-pick exemplary couples who inspire me for their passion, purpose, and romance together. Setting up my “marriage mentors” panel with couples who have been married between five and 30 years reminds me that the kind of marriage I want exists. When I am ready to freak out about a small miscommunication with my boyfriend (and so much more!), I email them for advice or check in once a month to hear stories of their happy marriages. At my fingertips is a wealth of wisdom and encouragement, which is a game-changer.

We need to learn how to do it:

Finally, for the same reasons that made the ocean scary as a young girl, my fear of marriage comes from not knowing exactly how to “do it.” I am afraid of being incompetent. I ask myself, how will I deal with the storms that will arise, the ebb and flow of passion that swells and then dissipates after the honeymoon phase is over? What if a marital rip tide comes along and I have no idea how to get out of it? Just like I needed a swim coach, sometimes it is helpful to surrender my uncertainty to someone else. If you are like me, it is okay to confess these fears to a professional. We might need a life-raft. It could be a marriage mentor, professional therapist, a communication class, or the courage to be brutally honest in a relationship where both parties avoid talking about certain issues. Competence breeds confidence, and sometimes accumulating more skills helps alleviate the fear.

Making a commitment to marry is a huge decision and a big unknown. While still single, it is helpful to get acclimated to the environment of marriage, find concrete examples of married couples who have the type of life and love we want, and learn practical skills to help us move forward. As I do these things, I am confident it is just a matter of time before I am ready to go out into the deep.

This article first appeared on The Everygirl by yours truly.